Mexico Sister Parish

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

January 24, 2007

 

            We are just back from Mexico.

            Our parish sent a little delegation of four people to visit our sister parishes high in the mountains of the central Mexican state of Hidalgo, about 200 miles north of Mexico City. It was our fourth visit.            

            We have two sister parishes. One is Sagrado Corazon (Sacred Heart) in the “municipio” (county) of Pisaflores. The other is San Pedro in the “municipio” of Chapulhuacan.    

            These places are not tourist Mexico. They are rural, poor and isolated. People wear cowboy boots and hats. They work in the fields. The average wage is $8 to $10 per day. It is a hard, hard life.

            These are mountain people. Their local music, called Huaztecha, sounds like our country music. If you want a mental picture of the place, combine the music and the mountains, and think of West Virginia in the 1950s, only in Spanish.

            Not too many “gringos” visit there. In one little town, I mentioned that I am the only gringo ever to visit four times. They laughed in agreement.

            They call me “Padre Gringo” or “Padre Pedro.” I answer to either.

            By now I sometimes get recognized on the street. One young woman stopped me in the town of Chapulhuacan. She said, “Padre, you came to anoint my mother last year.” I asked how her mother was doing. “She died,” she said. “But we were grateful that a priest was able to visit her before she died.”

            The local priests are incredibly overworked. There is no way they can even visit all the towns, let alone the individual homes. One of our sister parishes has 45 chapels and two priests. The other parish has 25 chapels and one priest.

            When we go, we try to visit the places the local priests can’t get to. We also try to help financially to support the work of the lay catechists. We buy building supplies to rebuild chapels. We also have bought bells, crucifixes, statues and chairs for chapels. We bring supplies for the catechists, especially Bibles, catechisms, rosaries and prayer books.

            The Catholic Church is under siege in Mexico from outside missionaries, mostly from the U.S. These missionaries are usually Mormon, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or various evangelical groups. As one catechist said, “They divide the community.”

            Because the priests cannot be everywhere, the Catholic Church depends on lay catechists. These lay volunteers teach the faith, hold Sunday services in remote towns, reflect on the scriptures, and prepare people for sacraments.  Without the catechists, the church would die.   

            Our visits are like getting caught up in a whirlwind. I usually celebrate mass three times a day, in three different little towns.

            Getting to the towns involves hours bouncing along the dirt roads, in the back of pick-up truck. We sit on stools or boards laid across the truck side rails.   .

            When we get there to the town, the catechists jump off and call people to mass with loud speakers, bells, and fireworks. Nobody has a phone. People come down from the hills, in from the fields, and out from their houses.

            Each mass is followed by a “convivio” (party). Women miraculously produce tables loaded with chicken and pork, tortillas and enchiladas, beans and rice. Sometimes, we also participate in weddings and baptisms.

            These visits are not a restful, but they are rejuvenating.

            I always come back exhausted but strangely energized.

            Somehow, on the faces of all those wonderful people, we see in a new way what the faith means to people. How it unites us. How it sustains us. How it guides us.

            Somehow, God has given this place to me and to my parish. It is a mystery how we have made this connection. Truly the plan of God.

            It is the mystery of the Body of Christ.

            What a gift it is.